During these summer months, the headquarters for solo singing hereabouts is at the opera house a few miles north of town, but quite a bit of vocalizing is also going on within city limits. The recital scene has stepped up in the past couple of years thanks to the summer series put in place by the Santa Fe Concert Association, which provides selected singers from Santa Fe Opera a forum in which to display a different side of their artistry by performing lieder and art songs. Those concerts got going this week — we’ll discuss them in next week’s column — and the Concert Association’s artistic director, Joseph Illick, has leapt to point out that they are being presented by his organization with the collaboration of Santa Fe Opera. A prelude to that series took place on Aug. 4, when soprano Christine Brewer appeared in a recital at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, assisted by Illick as pianist. That performance was presented by Santa Fe Opera, which noted in the program “the collaborative support of the Santa Fe Concert Association.” All that collaboration seems newsworthy in a town where mutual support among performing-arts organizations is as scarce as bird dung in a cuckoo clock. We should see more of it (the collaboration, that is).
Anyway, Brewer’s recital was designed to fill the gap some people perceived when Santa Fe Opera decided against trying to mount a Wagner opera during this bicentennial of his birth. Apart from his operas, there’s not much music by Wagner that is very interesting. One exception, however, is his Wesendonck-Lieder, a set of five songs on poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, with whom the composer enjoyed at least a passionate friendship and quite likely something more. The composition of the songs was coeval to his work on Tristan und Isolde. Wagner went so far as to refer to two of the numbers, “Im Treibhaus” and “Träume,” as studies for Tristan und Isolde, and those songs do allude quite specifically to music that shows up in the opera. Brewer sang them with security and robust tone; and by robust I mean not just with amplitude and carrying power but also with a luxurious sound rather than just a lot of brass. Illick continued the show by performing with his accustomed fluency two of Liszt’s solo-piano transcriptions of Wagner favorites, the “Spinning Song” from Der fliegende Holländer and the “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde, thereby intensifying the Tristan theme. A second birthday boy this year is Benjamin Britten — it’s his centennial — so he also figured in this tribute concert. Brewer sang a group of his Cabaret Songs to texts by W.H. Auden, a set that came across as forced and hollow, as is its wont, and then four of the same composer’s arrangements of well-known folk songs from the British Isles. All in all, it was a slender offering for a song recital, and the chief interest was Brewer’s voice itself rather than any musical insights it enabled her to achieve. There followed a pair of encores, of which the first was as welcome as it was inevitable: the actual vocal version of the “Liebestod,” delivered in magisterial fashion.
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